MayJune 2015 SXSWorld


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4 4 S X S W o r l d | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M I didn't know there were prizes," Courtney Barnett says with a giggle. Barnett, who played her first SXSW Music event this year, is the winner of the 2015 Grulke Prize for Developing Non-US Act. "It's huge, I reckon," she continues, speaking via phone from her home in Australia. "I was stoked when I heard about it. There were so many bands at SXSW. It was really nice to be singled out of all those great bands." The annual SXSW Grulke Prize is a relatively young music award, now in its third year, and has three prize categories: Developing US Act, Developing Non-US Act and Career Act. The award includes $10,000 in prize money, which the winner is given to donate to a charity of his or her choosing. The award is named for and honors former SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke, who passed away suddenly in August 2012. Grulke is widely credited for helping shape SXSW Music from its small indie beginnings to its current weighty international status. But, from the way people talk about Grulke, and Austin being a small enough town where music folk talk to one another, you get the feeling that music made as much an impression on Grulke—who, at one time or another, also served as a music editor at the Austin Chronicle, a sound engineer and a tour manager—as he did on it. That is, a big one. Imagine sorting through all the bands and solo artists who play SXSW Music and picking out three outstanding acts. It sounds like it could be fun. After all, what music nut doesn't like to make lists of his or her favorite artists? But then, once you dig into the more than 2,200 acts who played this year's event—and among those there are many different genres and nationalities, not to mention the range of experience, from absolute beginner to top of the ladder star—it seems impossible to whittle the list down to 30, let alone three. That's just what a selected body of music business cognoscenti, along with SXSW's knowledgeable music bookers, somehow managed to do. Sometimes, however, standouts do just exactly that. Barnett made her SXSW debut with considerable critical and fan buzz. Her debut full-length album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, was released on Mom+Pop in March, too. She is currently in the midst of a U.S. tour, which includes three sold-out shows in New York City, and an appearance at July's Newport Folk Festival. This year's Developing US Act winner is Leon Bridges, a hotly- tipped soul singer from Fort Worth, Texas, whose debut album, Coming Home, will be released on Columbia Records on June 23. Bridges has followed his packed SXSW shows with a British and American tour, the latter of which includes two sold-out shows in New York City in June, and, like Barnett, a performance at this year's Newport Folk Festival. "It was an honor to play SXSW for the first time this year and to walk away with the Grulke Prize," said Bridges via email. "I will share this award with my band and make a donation to Kids Environmental Education Network in Fort Worth." Coincidentally, the Grulke Career Award went to another Texas act, Austin's own Spoon, an indie rock band whose 20-plus year career has grown alongside SXSW's expansion. "It was such a honor to get the award," says Jim Eno, Spoon's drummer and co- founder. "I think we've played SXSW every year except for maybe a couple, oh and during the time we took three years off. We played our first one in 1995. I love it. I get to see friends and see some bands. We play, then I get to sleep in my own bed," he says with the relish of a man who has been on the road for much of the past 20 years. Spoon's career is rooted in dogged Texan determination. It is the little indie band that did, despite daunting roadblocks and circumstances. Co-anchored by Eno and co-founder, singer/guitarist Britt Daniels, the second half of the band's career has seen it become among America's top rock acts, and the band's eighth album, They Want My Soul, which was released last summer, debuted at number three on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. Spoon joins the Career Award's previous winners: The Flaming Lips and Damon Albarn. Though most SXSW artists are like Barnett, who says that she wasn't aware of who Grulke was, the award keeps his presence strong among his many industry colleagues, both locally and internation- ally. As an added bonus during SXSW, the City of Austin dedicated Brent Grulke Plaza as a permanent memorial. The plaza is located by the Auditorium Shores Stage on Lady Bird Lake, which Grulke was instrumental in establishing as a venue open to SXSW registrants and the general public alike. Spoon was among several bands per- forming on that stage in March. "I knew Brent well," says Eno. "He was such a big part of Austin's music scene. I can tell you, he really is missed." Fo r m o re info rm a t io n a b ou t t h e 20 1 5 G rul ke Prize w in n e r s , v i s it s x s m /mu s ic / fes t i va l /g rul ke - p rize. Honoring 2015's Grulke Prize Winners: Two For Texas, One For Down Under by Linda Laban " S p o o n a t A u d i to rium S h o res d e d ica t io n ce re m o ny Le o n B ri d g es M I C H A E L L O C C I S A N O / G E T T Y I M A G E S D U S T I N F I N K E L S T E I N / G E T T Y I M A G E S C our t n ey B a rn e t t A L E X A WA G N E R

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